Devon Avenue quiet on bin Laden, despite his impact

May 2, 2011

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While reaction poured in worldwide the day after President Barack Obama announced the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, voices were muted on the main business artery of Chicago’s Pakistani community. Store owners along Devon Avenue on the city’s far North Side often recount the fallout they experienced after the terrorist attacks nearly a decade ago: namely, a sudden scrutiny by media and police and, perhaps a consequence of that, the decline of business as shoppers turned away to quieter suburban shopping strips.

Despite the trouble that the terrorist attacks caused them, few Devon merchants and shoppers were willing to share their reactions to bin Laden's death openly. During Monday’s lunch hour, the Hyderabad House Restaurant was serving a healthy crew of men, while televisions blared South Asian music videos.

“I never heard them talking about the situation which is going on,” said employee Naseer Khan. Khan was the single person at the establishment who agreed to be interviewed. “I can say nothing about it, about the situation, what's going on,” he said. “I don't know what's really going on. I'm not a news watcher. I'm not really interested in it.”

Sohail Siddiqui at Islamic Books and Things said he watched Mr. Obama’s speech on the television Sunday night. “It's a surprise news that they caught them and they killed them,” he said, “And it's a very surprise news for me, and it's a very good thing.”

At a Pakistani restaurant, the host had not heard the news of bin Laden’s death. Many other employees at Devon Avenue stores were aware of the news, but declined to comment.

Jeweler Fazal Ahmedi was an exception, though. The Afghan jeweler beamed as he congratulated the world on bin Laden’s death. “It's a great moment. I'm speechless, honestly,” said Ahmedi. “This guy, he was a monster, to be honest with you,” he continued, referring to bin Laden. Ahmedi left Afghanistan in 1986, but says a cousin was killed there. Ahmedi blames bin Laden’s network of Al Qaeda operatives or the Taliban, whom bin Laden supported.

The discovery of bin Laden in Pakistan was also a point of vindication, said Ahmedi. “The Pakistani government was always saying you know, he's in Afghanistan, he's hiding in the mountains,” he said. “We knew it, he was in Pakistan.”